Monday, May 9, 2022


Music Week

May archive (in progress).

Music: Current count 37881 [37831] rated (+50), 126 [127] unrated (-1).

Been feeling very down, but managed to pull myself together enough to write a Speaking of Which yesterday. I don't know whether it's a cop out to point out that the writing's been on the wall for quite some time. Who knew that resurrecting Cold War totems could lead to the sort of increasingly fevered confrontation we're seeing now between Russia and the US? Who knew that Republican politicization of the courts could lead to stripping away such fundamental rights as deciding for oneself whether to bear children? Who knew that a combination of tax cuts, financial voodoo, and attacks on labor unions might lead to the political distortions caused by the most extreme inequality in American history? Who knew that real progress on civil rights would be reversed by all that inequality? Well, anyone who was paying any attention, that's who.

One thing I didn't manage to mention yesterday is that there is going to be an actual referendum on abortion rights in Kansas on August 2. The Kansas State Supreme Court ruled a while back that abortion rights are guaranteed by the state constitution. Kansas Republicans want to get around that by changing the constitution. That requires a two-thirds vote in the legislature, which they could do thanks to advanced gerrymandering skills, and a majority vote in a statewide plebiscite. They chose to schedule that vote not in November when all the big state offices are to be decided, but on primary day -- traditionally one where only Republicans come out to vote, because it's rare to have competitive races in Democratic primaries, while Republican primaries are frequently and expensively contested. So this may seem like a hopeless cause, but it's worth remembering that abortion was legal in Kansas before Roe v. Wade. Even though Democrats are pretty hopeless here, and the Republican Party has increasingly been taken over by religious fanatics, there used to be a very popular line of moderate Republicans who could break with the party on this issue. Winning on this issue would be big.

While we're at it, I noticed a headline in the paper today: "Biden taps Democrats' abortion fury with midterm wipeout looming." It's on an article by Jordan Fabian, attributed to Bloomberg News. Who says the billionaire press has lost its knack for slanting headlines? I don't doubt that it's possible for Democrats to lose their majority in Congress in 2022, but we're mostly looking at gerrymanders, voter suppression, and the anti-Democratic bias of the Senate. It hardly seems fair to call a slight slip a "wipeout." Indeed, I'm skeptical that we'll even see a real slip. But large segments of the media expect Democrats to be punished whenever something goes wrong, while instantly forgetting all the bad things Republicans do. The logical basis for this (assuming there is one) is that the Republicans have cornered the punisher brand: if you really hate someone, send the Republicans in. But the net effect, in every election Republicans have won since 1980 (and why should we not include 1968 and 1972) is that you only wind up punishing yourself.


I have very little to say about this week's batch of records. The way things have been going, I was surprised to find two A- records in my jazz demo pile. I'll also note that I enjoyed some of the B+(***) records a lot, only to decide not to give them the extra play that might have put them over.


New records reviewed this week:

Poppy Ajudha: The Power in Us (2022, Virgin): British pop singer-songwriter, has some edge in the music, politics too. B+(*)

Deborah Allen: The Art of Dreaming (2022, BFD): Country singer-songwriter, had a couple minor hits in the 1980s (although none that I recall). Eleven years since her last (unless you count Rockin' Little Christmas, from 2013). Overblown, takes a song like "Lyin' Lips" to cut through that. B

Anitta: Versions of Me (2022, Warner): Brazilian pop singer Larissa de Macedo Machado, fifth album since 2013. Starts with two hot rhythm tracks (in Portuguese, presumably, although the rhythm is more reggaeton, then switches to English for a slim funk track that should be a hit ("I'd Rather Have Sex"), then throws out more looks and vibes, including a fair amount of hip-hop. B+(***)

Jon Balke/Siwan: Hafla (2021 [2022], ECM): Norwegian pianist, albums since 1991, one called Siwan in 2009 with texts from Al-Andalus with Arabic vocals, strings, and percussion. Second album since then to adopt the group name, this time with Algerian singer Mona Boutchebak. B

Martin Bejerano: #Cubanamerican (2021 [2022], Figgland): Pianist, born in Florida, father Cuban, fourth album since 2007, backed by bass, drums, and extra percussion (Samuel Torres), with Roxana Amed singing "Mi Cafetad." B+(**) [cd] [05-27]

Will Bernard: Pond Life (2022, Dreck to Disk): Guitarist, started in a group led by Peter Apfelbaum, was part of a band called T.J. Kirk (name-checks James Brown, Thelonious Monk, and Rahsaan Roland Kirk), dozen albums since 1998. I think of him as a mild-mannered fusion guy, but here he's hanging out in a much rougher neighborhood, with Chris Lightcap (bass) and Ches Smith (drums), plus Tim Berne (alto sax) and/or John Medeski (piano/organ, 4 tracks each, 2 in common, so just 2 tracks are trio, which he aces). A- [cd] [05-27]

Steven Bernstein & the Hot 9: Manifesto of Henryisms (Community Music Vol. 3) (2020 [2022], Royal Potato Family): "Henryisms" derive from New Orleans pianist Henry Butler (1949-2018), who played in Bernstein's Kansas City band, and was the leader of a 2014 album Bernstein arranged, Viper's Drag. The arrangements here distribute the "Henryisms" to the band, built around old pieces from Morton and Armstrong to Ellington. Oddly, the Hot 9 left doesn't include a pianist, but guests John Medeski and Arturo O'Farrill fill in. B+(***)

Camila Cabello: Familia (2022, Epic): Cuban-born pop singer-songwriter, came to US when she was six, started in girl group Fifth Harmony (3 albums 2015-17), third solo album. This is about half Spanish, half English, the former up front to establish the rhythm, but once you're in the mood, it's nice to be able to follow the lyrics. A-

Calexico: El Mirador (2022, Anti-): Band from Tucson, twelfth album since 1996 (although Discogs lists twice as many), Joey Burns (vocals/guitar) and John Convertino (drums) founders and constant members, with some Mexican influence, including the occasional song in Spanish. B+(*)

Isaiah Collier & the Chosen Few: Lift Every Voice (2020 [2022], Division 81, EP): Saxophonist, plays soprano here, first appeared in Ernest Dawkins' Young Masters Quartet. Backed by piano, bass, and drums here, two songs (21:15). B+(*) [bc]

Congotronics International: Where's the One (2022, Crammed Discs, 2CD): Supergroup, combining members of Konono No. 1 and Kasai All Stars. Still love the junk instruments, but a little de trop. B+(**) [sp]

George Cotsirilos Quartet: Refuge (2021 [2022], OA2): Bay Area guitarist, handful of albums since 2003, this a quartet with piano, bass, and drums, doing original pieces. B+(*) [cd]

Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters: Mercy Me (2022, Stony Plain): Blues guitarist, doesn't sing much (Diane Blue takes the occasional vocal), albums go back to 1983. Organ prominent, with some sax I don't see a credit for. The guitar intro to "Please Send Me Someone to Love" is tasty, and Blue nails the vocal. She also aces "The Sun Shines Brightly," which I take to be an answer record to "The Sky Is Crying," then ends with "Higher and Higher" (which is what happened to my grade). B+(***)

Yelena Eckemoff: I Am a Stranger in This World (2016-20 [2022], L&H Production, 2CD): Pianist, switched from classical to jazz when she moved to US in 1991. Pieces inspired by Biblical Psalms (this is identified as the "instrumental version"). Mostly with Ralph Alessi (trumpet), Adam Rogers (guitar), Drew Gress (bass), and Nasheet Waits (drums), with the occasional sub. B+(*) [cd] [05-20]

Fontaines D.C.: Skinty Fia (2022, Partisan): Irish band, slotted as post-punk for reasons unclear, third album, kind of a big deal. They do have a sound. B+(*)

Manel Fortiá: Despertar (2022, Segell Microscopi): Bassist, from Barcelona, based in New York, second album, wrote all the pieces for a trio with Marco Mezquida (piano) and Raphaël Pannier (drums). Pieces long on rhythm, the piano dazzling, even through the exceptional bits (where the others shine). A- [cd] [05-12]

Erik Friedlander: A Queen's Butterfly (2021 [2022], Skipstone): Cellist, many albums since 1995, as well as quite a few with John Zorn. Quartet here, with Uri Caine (piano), Mark Helias (bass), and Ches Smith (drums). B+(***) [cd]

Anthony Fung: What Does It Mean to Be Free? (2022, self-released): Drummer, from Canada, based in Los Angeles, has a couple previous albums, wrote all but the Wayne Shorter tune here. Quartet with David Binney (alto sax), Luca Mendoza (piano), and Luca Alemanno (bass), plus guest spots. Especially good use of Binney here. B+(***) [cd]

Tee Grizzley: Half Tee Half Beast (2022, Grizzley Gang/300 Entertainment): Detroit rapper Terry Wallace, three albums, fourth mixtape. Hard beats, fast words, more cynical than I'd like: "It's too late to make a smart decision." B+(***)

Japanese Television: Space Fruit Vineyard (2022, Tip Top): British instrumental rock group, surf-to-space guitar (Tim Jones), second album. Not much to it, and what there is gets rather tedious. B-

Kehlani: Blue Water Road (2022, Atlantic): Last name Parrish, r&b singer-songwriter, third album after mixtapes and lots of singles. B+(***)

Koffee: Gifted (2022, RCA): Jamaican singer-songwriter, Mikayla Simpson, first album after a Grammy-winning EP and more than a dozen singles, short (10 songs, 29:06). B+(**)

Jinx Lennon: Pet Rent (2022, Septic Tiger): Irish punk poet, many albums since 2000, voice and words remind me of Craig Finn, except that Finn writes real tunes, while Lennon makes do with volume, beats, noise, and vitriol. He's super upset here, coming up with 25 rants -- even for punk, that runs long. B+(***)

Let's Eat Grandma: Two Ribbons (2022, Transgressive): British "experimental sludge pop" group led by Rosa Walton and Jenny Hollingworth, third album since 2016. B+(*)

Corb Lund: Songs My Friends Wrote (2022, New West): Country singer from Alberta, eleventh album since 1995. A pretty fair songwriter in his own right, some of his friends are even better, most famously Hayes Carll and Todd Snider, but he picks out gems from half a dozen more. A-

Yu Nishiyama: A Lotus in the Mud (2020 [2022], Next Level): Japanese composer/arranger, studied at UNT, teaches in New Jersey, not sure where he rounded up this crackling band. B+(*) [cd] [05-20]

Old Crow Medicine Show: Paint This Town (2022, ATO): Folk band based in Nashville, 12th album since 2000. They lay it on thick, tromping through their clichés, although I rather like the scuffed up "Hillboy Boy." B

Orville Peck: Bronco (2022, Columbia): Masked gay country singer-songwriter, from Johannesburg via Canada, second album. Deep, flexible voice ("a stunningly low baritone with a penchant for a pretty falsetto"), stretches it around dramatic arrangements, which work better than I'd expect (until it doesn't). B+(*)

Jeremy Pelt: Soundtrack (2021 [2022], HighNote): Trumpet player, immediately impressed with his chops, couple dozen albums since 2002. Less flash here, the title camouflage hiding a cornucopia of groove and mood pieces. B+(**)

Placebo: Never Let Me Go (2022, So/Elevator Lady): British rock band, principally singer-guitarist Brian Molko, debut 1996, nine year gap before this eighth album. B+(*)

Oumou Sangaré: Timbuktu (2022, World Circuit): Wassoulou singer from Bamako, the capital of Mali. Her parents were musicians, and she's been a big star since her debut in 1990. B+(***)

Secret People: Secret People (2019 [2022], Out of Your Head): Trio of Nathaniel Morgan (alto sax), Dustin Carlson (guitar/bass VI), and Kate Gentile (drums/vibes). Free rhythm, rather choppy, gets more interesting if you give it a chance. B+(**) [bc]

Aaron Seeber: First Move (2021 [2022], Cellar): Drummer, based in New York, first album, a live set at Ornithology Jazz Club in Brooklyn, the title track the only original, but he rounded up a name band: Warren Wolf (vibes), Tim Green (alto sax), Sullivan Fortner (piano), and Aaron Seeger (drums). B+(**) [cd]

Syd: Broken Hearts Club (2022, Columbia): Sydney Bennett, initially Syd Tha Kid, uncle a reggae producer, joined Odd Future collective, second album. Thin voice, stripped down beats. I liked her debut, then forgot about it. Probably same here. B+(***)

Tears for Fears: The Tipping Point (2022, Concord): British band, debut 1983, Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith the regulars (although Smith checked out for most of the 1990s), seventh album returns them to the top-5 of the UK charts, which they hadn't done since 1993 (first US top-10 since 1989). Overblown but cushy, feels like there must be a story being told but nothing interesting enough to demand the effort. B-

Kae Tempest: The Line Is a Curve (2022, Republic): Formerly Kate, fifth album, has published a novel, three plays, and six poetry collections. The lit cred shifts this from rap to spoken word, the minimal beats neither hip nor hop, but the effect remains subtle and sonorous. Smart, too. A-

Molly Tuttle & Golden Highway: Crooked Tree (2022, Nonesuch): Second-generation bluegrass singer-songwriter, from California, at 13 recorded an album of duets with her father (AJ Tuttle), soon joined the family band (The Tuttles). Third solo album. B+(***)

Cory Weeds Quartet: Just Coolin' (2021 [2022], Cellar Live): Tenor sax, with piano (Tilden Webb), bass, and drums. Nice mainstream effort. B+(**)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:

Áfrika Negra: Antologia Vol. 1 (1981-95 [2022], Bongo Joe): Band from Sao Tome & Principe, on or off the coast between Nigeria and Congo, dates not totally clear but they recorded at least 10 albums 1981-95, broke up, reformed 2012. My first guess was geographical, a fusion of highlife with soukous highlights, but that's close enough the King Sunny Adé's juju. I doubt they'd hold up head-to-head, but at the moment they're sounding pretty great. A-

Chet Baker: Tune Up: Live in Paris (1980 [2022], Circle): Live set, originally released in 1981, group includes guitar (Karl Ratzer), flute (Nicola Stillo), bass, and drums. Three long pieces, stretches of rhythm with occasional patches of poignant trumpet. Baker doesn't sing, but scats aimlessly on the opener. B+(*)

Dexter Gordon: Soul Sister (1962-63 [2022], SteepleChase): Tenor saxophonist, early work (1943-47) on Savoy and Dial marked him as a major figure, but he struggled (drugs and jail) until he signed with Blue Note (1961-65) and produced some of his greatest work. He moved to Europe during that period, first to Paris then Copenhagen. He continued to record for Prestige (1966-73), then (like many American expats) for the Danish label SteepleChase, which picked up a bunch of his older tapes. This picks up (I think for the first time) two sessions with different piano-bass-drums, one a radio shot from Oslo, the other a live set from Copenhagen. B+(***)

Pat Matshikiza/Kippie Moketsi: Tshona! (1975 [2022], As-Shams): South African jazz, leaders play piano and alto sax, backed by bass (Alec Khaoli) and drums (Sipho Mabuse), with Basil Coetzee (tenor sax) on the side. The longer pieces are classics of township jive, especially "Umgababa." A- [bc]

Pat Matshikiza Featuring Kippie Moketsi: Sikiza Matshikiza (1976 [2022], As-Shams): Septet, first two cuts are near-perfect township jazz, with the alto sax gliding over the piano rhythm. Second side strays a bit, ending with a blues. B+(***) [bc]

Kippie Moeketsi/Hal Singer: Blue Stompin' (1977 [2021], As-Shams): South African alto saxophonist (1925-83), started with Abdullah Ibrahim, featured with Pat Matshikiza (who plays piano on one track here). Singer (tenor sax) only appears on the title track here -- the title of his 1959 album. The other three tracks have Duku Makasi on tenor sax, the last two with Jabu Nkosi (piano) and Enock Mthaleni (guitar). B+(**) [bc]

Ann Peebles & the Hi Rhythm Section: Live in Memphis (1992 [2022], Memphis International): Soul singer, from St. Louis, started with Hi Records in Memphis in 1969, had some hits like "Part Time Love" and "I Can't Stand the Rain." Her Greatest Hits, spanning 1969-77, is essential, but some of the earlier LPs are also superb. Most of her hits are here, but not a sharp as the originals. B+(**)

Lionel Pillay: Shrimp Boats (1979-80 [2022], As-Shams): South African pianist, cover adds "Featuring Basil 'Mannenberg' Coetzee," the tenor saxophonist who only plays on the title cut (25:07). The other side (3 tracks, 22:27) were recorded later, a quintet with Barney Rachabane (alto sax) and Duku Makasi (tenor sax). B+(**) [bc]

Old music:

Ann Peebles: This Is Ann Peebles (1969, Hi): First album, produced a couple low-charting singles, plus another song that made Greatest Hits. Seems odd today that both sides end with Aretha Franklin classics, which were only a year or two old at the time. Promising that they don't miss by much. B+(***)

Placebo: Meds (2006, Virgin): Fifth album, probably should be in my list of unheard Christgau A-list albums, but he never assigned a grade to it (wrote an ungraded essay, included it in his 2006 Dean's List, but only 78 of 81). B+(***)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Jonathan Barber & Vision Ahead: Poetic (Vision Ahead) [05-13]
  • George Cotsirilos Quartet: Refuge (OA2) [05-20]
  • Tetel Di Babuya: Meet Tetel (Arkadia) [06-24]
  • Esthesis Quartet: Esthesis Quartet (Orenda) [05-27]
  • Anthony Fung: What Does It Mean to Be Free? (self-released): [05-06]
  • Randy Napoleon: Puppets: The Music of Gregg Hill (OA2) [05-20]
  • Elsa Nilsson: Atlas of Sound: Coast Redwoods (Ears & Eyes) [04-22]
  • Michael Orenstein: Aperture (Origin) [05-20]
  • Dave Rempis/Joshua Abrams/Avreeayl Ra + Jim Baker: Scylla (Aerophonic) [07-08]
  • J. Peter Schwalm & Stephan Thelen: Transneptunian Planets (RareNoise) * [06-03]
  • Aaron Seeber: First Move (Cellar) [05-06]
  • Cathy Segal-Garcia & Phillip Strange: Live in Japan (Origin) [05-20]

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